Babygrande Records
Babygrande Records

Smoke DZA first met Pete Rock 12 years ago. At the time, the Harlem MC was an aspiring rapper in his early 20s. His first interactions with Rock were carrying his crates of vinyl records into clubs just so he could get inside. Things have changed drastically in the dozen years since those first meetings. Many of those clubs Rock would DJ in are closed now. But if they were open, DZA wouldn't need help getting in.

In the past decade, DZA's built up a consistent discography of albums, mixtapes and EPs, often centered around his love of marijuana. He's more than just a weed rapper, though. The average weed rapper doesn't get opportunities to link up with legends like Pete Rock for entire projects like Smoke does on their new joint album, Don't Smoke Rock.

Don't Smoke Rock is actually Smoke DZA's fourth project this year, previously releasing his fourth Ringside EP with producer 183rd, He Has Risen with Harry Fraud, and Don't Pass Trump the Blunt, the sequel to DZA's breakthrough 2010 mixtape, George Kush da Button. Of the four, this is easily the longest and most cohesive record he's done.

The sound of the album is decidedly rooted in 1990's boom bap, which should come as a surprise to no one considering Rock is at the helm. Nearly 30 years in the game, he still hasn't lost his touch as a producer, using vocal flips (like the Nas sample on "I Ain't Scared) or jazz samples with ease. It sounds like everything you would want and expect from the Soul Brother at this point in his career. Of course, not everything's going to sound quite like his glory days. Some of the beats (like "Hold the Drums" and "Moving Weight Part 1") don't can't keep listeners engaged as they push five-minute lengths, and the production wears a bit thin.

While the album is heavily influenced by the East Coast boom bap sound that Pete Rock perfected back in the 1990s, it's not just a throwback New York album. Smoke DZA and many of the guests bring modernity to those classic sounds. On "Limitless," rising star and XXL Freshman Dave East provides a killer hook while Smoke DZA flosses his abilities: "Big meal at Frankie & Johnny's I tip generous/Ain't no ceilings for DZA, my shit limitless/Out of body experience/Wait, jump back in my temple, I got a vision. Is this killer shit?/Whole lotta commas is what you dealing with - the main event."

East isn't the only major guest to show up. Friends of both DZA and Rock show up in spades, including Wale ("Show Off"), Rick Ross ("Black Superhero Cat"), Royce da 5'9" ("Hold the Drums"), Mac Miller ("Until Then") and Cam'ron ("Moving Weight Part 1"). Styles P, Jadakisss and BJ Chicago Kid join Smoke for a classic NYC banger on "Milestone." Big K.R.I.T. steals the show from DZA and Dom Kennedy on "Dusk 2 Dusk"). Many of these rappers are well into their careers but haven't worked much, if at all, with Pete Rock so it's great to hear them finally work with his legendary sound.

While guests are heavy on Don't Smoke Rock, the main event still is Smoke DZA on the mic. He holds his own on the verses. Before Jada or Styles even have a chance to touch the mic, Smoke drops hot lines like "Waiting for the bullshit to set sail/Intake the dour and then I exhale/She wanna text code words, let's chill/My man still locked for a direct sale he made on a Nextel."

DZA's rapping has continued to improve since he came on the scene, and flows like that show that he's much more than the "weed rapper" label he's often pigeonholed in. Being a weed aficionado doesn't mean that's the only lane he can handle. Whether he's talking about the money, the drugs, the fame, his rapping ability as a whole, or getting serious and touching on police brutality, Smoke holds it down.

Don't Smoke Rock is another great entry into Smoke DZA's ever-expansive discography. He may release multiple projects in a year, but that's evidence of a solid work ethic that makes him keep honing in on his craft as he does here. Combine his still-growing abilities as a rapper with some vintage Pete Rock production, and you're in for a smooth 50 minutes of listening.

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